I didn't have a dog when I was growing up, but I learned to love their recalcitrant, curmudgeonly, demanding, loyal behavior through the drawings and stories of James Thurber. His melancholy, tender short story, "The Departure of Emma Inch," which ends with sad-sacky Emma standing on the dock, holding her aging, snuffling old dog Feely in her arms, told me all I needed to know about what it means to love a dog.
This marvelous collection pulls together that story, some of Thurber's drawings and other writings, and then so much more -- stories by Maeve Brennan and John Cheever, reportage by Jeffrey Toobin and Susan Orlean, cartoons of possibly demented dogs by George Booth and of vaguely creepy dogs by Charles Addams, and a dozen or more dog-themed New Yorker covers, all in full color.
It is Thurber who dominates, though, with his work opening each section and with his sad-eyed possibly-a-basset-hound on the stark red book jacket. His eulogy to Rex, the dog who fought violently and retrieved indefatigably, is particularly memorable. ("He would even have brought back a piano if you had thrown one.")
This book would certainly make a fine gift for any dog lover. But it would be a fine gift, too, for any lover of great storytelling, poignant illustrations and hilarious cartoons. And, it must be said: Even a cat lover might appreciate this one.